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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Dimitrion, LCSW, CST

Peeling Back the Layers of Narcissism Part 1: What is it? How does it happen? What does it look like?

Narcissism has made its way into the pop-psychology and social media zeitgeist over the last several years. The often one-dimensional definition of narcissism as someone who is self-obsessed, over-the-top, and grandiose minimizes the insidious nature of what narcissism truly entails for those who end up in the relational orbit of a true narcissist. Chapter 1 offers a brief overview of narcissism through a developmental lens.


What Exactly is Narcissism? 

Narcissism is a personality style that is characterized by an insecure sense of self that is vehemently guarded by an overinflated ego that requires a consistent source of external reinforcement to remain in place.


How Does a Narcissistic Personality Style Form?

Personality is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, social-developmental, and experiential factors. Leaders in the narcissism field including Karyl McBride PhD and Ramani Durvasula PhD have noted that narcissistic personality style has the potential to emerge when childhood experiences, family dynamics, and caregiver styles affect a child’s ability to develop a secure and stable sense of self from which they can confidently navigate the world around them.

Dynamics of a family system that can contribute to the development of a narcissistic personality style include:

·        Parental overinvolvement marked by excessive praise, overattentiveness, and/or overindulgence.

·        Parental under-involvement marked by coldness, avoidance, rejection, and/or neglect.

·        Inconsistency with parenting and chronic misattunement.

·        Frequent criticism, antagonism, and shame.

·        Parental narcissistic or antagonistic personality style.

·        Parental abuse and neglect.

·        Occurrence of attachment, developmental, or relational trauma.

·        Other adverse childhood experiences where the child was unable to consistently have their relational, emotional, safety, and/or physical needs met in a developmentally appropriate manner.


The Spectrum of Narcissism: Recognizing Common Personality Traits

Narcissism is not a one size fits all personality style. Like other personality styles, narcissism occurs on a spectrum where someone can have a few narcissistic personality traits or many narcissistic personality traits. Each personality trait can present itself as mild, moderate, or severe.


Common Narcissistic Personality Traits:

·        Grandiosity.

·        Sense of entitlement.

·        Selfish/self-centered/self-involved.

·        Need for admiration.

·        Fear of Abandonment or Rejection.

·        Fragile, fluctuating, superficially high self-esteem.

·        Defensiveness.

·        Impulsivity.

·        Low frustration tolerance

·        Struggles with emotional regulation.

·        Antagonistic, critical, and judgmental.

·        Exploitative of others.

·        Manipulative, gaslighting, and controlling behavior.

·        Difficulties with empathy

·        Emotionally and relationally avoidant.

·        Inconsiderate of other’s thoughts, feelings, needs, desires, and beliefs.

·        Difficulties accepting feedback or criticism.

·        Trouble maintaining healthy and fulfilling relationships.

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